In the new remake of Ben-Hur, Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland) plays Esther, the wife of the title character played by Jack Huston, while Brazilian thespian Rodrigo Santoro (Xerxes in the 300 movies) plays the no-pressure role of a Jewish carpenter named Jesus Christ. While Christ’s face is never seen in the classic 1959 Ben-Hur, he has more of a presence in this film, interacting with Judah Ben-Hur at several critical points to enhance the story’s themes of forgiveness and redemption.
Screen Rant spoke with Santoro and Boniadi at the film’s press junket, where Santoro talked about taking on a role with a lot of expectations attached to it, while Boniadi, an activist for human rights in real life, spoke about playing a woman who did the same thing in Biblical times.
Rodrigo, you play a character who’s kind of well known…
Rodrigo Santoro: Kind of, kind of.
Some people might have heard of him.
Nazanin Boniadi: No pressure.
Exactly – any special pressure in playing the role of Jesus Christ?
Santoro: World pressure. The pressure.
Boniadi: The weight of the world is sitting on your shoulders.
Santoro: Kind of. But honestly, the first thing I had to do to be healthy, you know, emotionally healthy, was to kind of get rid of all the preconceived ideas about the figure of Jesus, and even the stories that I’ve heard, and the expectations. Because if I pay attention or I think about that while I’m working, you know, I’m not going to be able to be connected to my heart as I should be in order to get this job done. Because at the end of the day, it is a job; even though it is a very personal, spiritual, you know, internal journey, it is a job.
So I really tried as much as I could to not think about those things and not focus my attention and not act for that expectation. It was all about being connected to whatever it was inside me at that moment, whatever was available, whatever I was able to reach as deep as possible in my heart and go from there. Start working from there, not listening to all those voices and fears and all that. But it comes with it – it’s the whole package. It lands – right when I had the offer to play the part, I’m like, “Okay.” So we started thinking about everything.
Nazanin, Esther is kind of an activist and you’re an activist in real life, so is that something that you keyed into with her?
Boniadi: Yeah, I definitely felt connected to her because of that, and to have her be an activist in that era, it really shows us that the problems that humanity is facing really haven’t changed that much. It’s the same problems but they’re magnified because there’s more of us on the planet. But the idea of having disenfranchised people across the world, and having to fight for justice and equality 2,000 years ago – today we’re still doing it.
Were either of you on the set for the chariot race? Did you get to watch that?
Boniadi: Yeah, a little bit.
Santoro: I did not. I was really busy with Jesus (laughs). It was a lot of work to do, I didn’t have a chance to watch it.
Boniadi: I did a little bit. It was very – I was on the edge of my seat, so I can imagine the audience – once it’s all come together, it’s just going to be spectacular.
Ben-Hur is now playing in U.S. theaters.